Truck Camping: Live Rent Free – Part 1

by: JD

by JD on November 5, 2010

The reality is that this is something you’re either going to get or you’re not. Living out of your vehicle isn’t for everyone, not to mention it is illegal in many places. I take no responsibility for your actions or the decisions you make with the information I am about to supply you. Sleeping in your car could get you visited by the police, arrested, injured, or even killed. Engage in this lifestyle at your own risk.

That being said – chill. This can be a cool, fun and exciting way to save money to travel the world. Use your effing head and think for yourself.

Why would anyone live out of and/or sleep in their truck?

This is not something I ever planned on doing in my life. It just sort of happened. At the time, it seemed like the only way to save a few hundred dollars a month. And saving that kind of money was the only way I was going to get to travel next year.

I’m not sure where the original inception for the idea came from, but it wasn’t mine. Many people have done this for a variety of reasons. Here are a few.

Save Money

Eliminating the need to pay rent or a mortgage is a technique you can use to save thousands of dollars a year. You don’t have to want to travel the world. You could use that money for a car, to put a down payment on a house, to pay off your debt, or to buy an engagement ring. $500-$1000 per month can add up fast.

Travel and Mobility

Not having a home means you aren’t attached to a location. Thus, your mobility renders you the luxury of travel should your finances allow. Remember, you don’t have to park your truck in alleys across the U.S. (in fact you shouldn’t), camping in your vehicle at actual campgrounds could be an excellent way to see the country.

If your job ties you down, at least you won’t pay rent. And, you can essentially drive your house anywhere you want for a weekend or fun.

Living out of your truck also means you will, by default, own less shit. You can only pack so much stuff into a pickup. Thus freeing you from wasting your precious life hours cleaning stuff, organizing junk, having garage sales, and fixing things. I don’t claim to be a minimalist. But, there’s something to be said for that lifestyle.

Check out these guys:

If you’re an adventurous sort like me, you might even enjoy the challenge and uncertainty that comes with living out of your vehicle.

If you don’t actually want to live out of your truck, this article will also be a great guide for setting up your vehicle to camp in. Tent camping is fun but has its downside(s). You probably already have a truck, or can trade your car for one at little or no cost. Sleeping in your vehicle provides you with a dryer, safer, warmer, (less buggy) place to sleep than a tent.

What You Need – Logistics

A truck or SUV

Let’s start with the obvious. You need a vehicle you can realistically sleep in. Don’t fool yourself, sleeping in the back seat of your car is probably going to get old pretty quick. If you don’t have a truck, see if you can trade up for a truck or SUV. I’m not sure one is better than the other.


The nice thing about an SUV is you can move from the front to the back without going outside. Also, inverters and electronic components are easier to install, and your vehicle’s heat and battery could be utilized in a pinch.

The downside is that all your sleeping stuff and gear is in the car with you at all times. That could look bad to passing cops, annoy your passengers, and just generally make you feel homeless.


A truck keeps your living-space and driving-space separate, you will generally have more room, and items in the back are easily hidden away.

I personally own a 1999 Ford Ranger. Small pickups can work just fine. I’m 6’ 3”, 200 lbs and I have no problems sleeping in this vehicle.

If you go truck, you need a cap

Remember that if you use a truck you will need a cap for the back. Try and get one with windows that crack open. Also, keep in mind that you will probably want to construct, or buy a cap with a mechanism for locking it from the inside.

You needn’t spend large sums on this. I mean, come on – you’re sleeping in your vehicle. Do you seriously need the truck and cap to match?

I bought mine off Craigslist for $40, installed some locks on the outside, and I was good to go. Just make sure the one you buy is either waterproof, or easily sealed with silicone.

Sleeping Bag

What type of bag you need will depend mostly on the type of weather you’re sleeping in.

I tried using a mattress, sheets and blankets. But it was just too complicated and took up too much space.

Any decent camping sleeping bag will have a cold rating. E.g., 30 degree, 50 degree etc… I’ve found that while these bags are extremely comfortable and warm, they actually work best in temperatures around 20-30 degrees above their ratings. So, a 30 degree bag is pretty nice around 45-55 degrees and above, but actually a bit nippy down around 30 degrees.

If you live somewhere where it gets pretty cold and snowy like Michigan, you’ll definitely want a -10 or -15 degree bag. Anything less in the winter is going to be pretty tough. Also, remember that it gets cooler at night than it is during the day. (All the above numbers are assumed to be Fahrenheit .)

Sleeping Pad

Proper sleep is vital to your health. Short of air and water, sleep is probably the next thing you simply can’t live without.

Most of us probably don’t get enough sleep as it is, so the quality of your rest becomes a major issue once you begin sleeping in your truck. If you’re going to make this work for you realistically, you need to figure out what kind of setup is going to allow you some decent rest. Here’s a reasonable starting point.

When I first started truck camping I was using an air mattress with sheets and blankets. While this might seem like a good idea at first, there are two main drawbacks.

1. When you roll around and shift on an air mattress, it makes a lot of noise. If you’re camping incognito somewhere, you do not want that.

2. It takes up a shit-ton of space.

Instead, camp in your truck as if you were backpacking. Buy a decent self-inflating hiking pad and an appropriate sleeping bag. Pair that with a pillow and some ear plugs and you’ll be good to go.


Obviously you won’t have a fridge and a microwave anymore. But, coolers are cheap and can store your food for at least a day or two. Plan on going to the store and buying food pretty much every day. Living out of your truck isn’t a reason or excuse to eat fast food all the time.

Alarm Clock

I just use my phone and then charge it at work, but if you’re worried about the battery dying, you might get a separate battery powered clock. You’ll probably want one for two reasons.

(a) to get to work on time and

(b) to get yourself up and out of your locations before most people are awake.

Truck campers are early birds by necessity. You may not like it, but if you go get some coffee and wake up, you’ll add a few extra productive hours onto your day. I was generally up between 5 and 6 am every day that I slept in my truck.

LED Headlamp

It’s nice to have a little light when you need it. Get one of those lamps that will switch to red light to help you stay on the down-low. You can find these at any Walmart.

Laundry Bag and Clean-Clothes Bin

Sleeping in your vehicle doesn’t have to mean going grunge. Get a pillow case to put your dirty laundry in and some kind of container to keep your clean clothes in. Fold them (or don’t) just like you would at home.

Ear Plugs

Getting woken up every 15 minutes by every racoon, squirrel and drunk person within 200 yards is annoying and will kill your sleep quality. Get some plugs.


This is obvious. Wear deodorant.

Gym Membership

This is vital. When I first started all my friends told me I could stay at their places and use their showers.

Not an option.

They’re my friends. And, their homes aren’t homeless shelters. If you have cool friends, they will offer you the same. Decline.

You need to be independent while at the same time maintaining and respecting your relationships. It sounds fine at first, but I’m sure eventually your amigos are going to get tired of you dropping by for a shower.

Get a cheap gym membership. They can be had for $15 – $40 per month all over the country. Don’t be cheap, $20 a month is a joke compared to what rent costs. You’ll be clean, have the use of a shower whenever you want, get free soap, and you won’t ever have to clean the bathroom.

Plus, if you’re lucky you might even get a spa or tanning out of the deal. And maybe being there every day will motivate you to actually workout once in a while.


Don’t keep anything illegal in your vehicle, especially weapons. If, by chance, the police pay you a visit you do not want a handgun in your truck. If you feel that unsafe, throw a baseball bat in the back with you. They’re legal and easy to use.


Lastly, I would recommend buying some window tinting sheets from your local Walmart (or any auto accessory dealer), and tint out the back of your vehicle or your truck cap.

People are funny, and they’re afraid of what they don’t understand. You don’t want strangers looking into your truck and seeing a bunch of sleeping stuff. They’ll start asking questions that you just don’t need to deal with.

Secondly, if you’re sleeping and some hoodlums show up, you’ll be much better off if they don’t know you’re there.

Stay Tuned For Part Two of, “Truck Camping: Live Rent Free”

In the second and last installment of this article, I will discuss the finer points of selecting locations to park your truck at during the night.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Adventure-Some Matthew November 6, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Awesome post! I think this would be a great way to live, at least temporarily. (Not that my wife would be up for it.) I know a couple who lived in their conversion van as they took a few months driving across the country to catch a cruise up to Alaska, and then drove back to their home in Florida. They had a fabulous time!

Looking forward to seeing the next post!

John DeVries November 6, 2010 at 7:25 pm

It definitely had its ups and downs. I think it would have been more “fun” if I was traveling in it.

Both of the places I parked it (legally, at work) are in the ghetto. So, I had to deal with hoodlums from time to time, and that was annoying. Otherwise it worked out pretty well.

Thanks for the comment! And no, I am pretty sure your wife would never go for that. lol.

Chase Night November 20, 2010 at 9:16 am

I would so be doing this if I were single. I got tired of paying for motels when I used to drive to see my girlfriend so I just started sleeping in brightly-lit wal-mart parking lots. They really don’t like this on paper, but as long as your car doesn’t look obviously hobo they just think it belongs to another night shift worker.

But now I live with said girlfriend and two dogs, a cat, and a snail and I think we would get really cramped in my SUV now. Although we do sleep in there when we travel without the pups. But if it were just me, I would totally be doing this right now.

John DeVries November 20, 2010 at 10:03 am

That’s awesome!

I will probably do it again if I’m traveling (and not on my motorcycle). A truck is a great mobile camper if you set it up right. But, I don’t feel like fighting the cold in it this winter.

Yeah, you’re right. There probably wouldn’t be room for the snail.

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